In part I of this series, I bemoaned the lack of innovation and originality in the gun industry. In part II, I pointed out where I do see innovation. In this third and final part, what can there be to talk about?
Well, I didn’t really think there would be a third part when I started this series. After publishing the second part I got some feedback that I frankly hadn’t considered beforehand. Is the lack of innovation even a bad thing?
Do We Need New Stuff?
As my friend over at Loose Rounds said, “Why do all claw hammers look the same?” And he’s right. For a given unchanging task, and an unchanging set of requirements, there is a single optimum solution. Upon finding that solution, moving away from it simply because it’s not new is foolish. Claw hammers all look the same for a reason. Glocks and Glock-copies dominate the handgun market for a reason. Everything I complained about in the first part of this series attained it’s cliche status for a reason, and that is is simple: These things work.
Have we truly arrived at the ultimate solution for all these categories of firearm? Probably not, but we are very close. Or, at least we have a set of very workable solutions for the set of problems, requirements, and available tools and materials. See, the popular guns we have today are close to that solution. To go from where we’re currently at with almost anything, to the absolute most effective answer to those problems will be an exercise in diminishing returns. How much better can we actually make a handgun or rifle? How much will it cost us to do so? Can we really get more than a few percentage points’ worth of performance? Most people are limited by their own lack of capability and not by the gun, so what good would investing tons of resources into R&D really gain us as a society? If we did create the perfect handgun, would we even be able to convince people to sell their Glocks and P320s and switch to this new platform? We’re so close that the individual’s monetary cost of switching may not be justified by the gain in performance.
So will we really ever see anything new? I actually do think so.
When Will We See New Stuff?
Going back to my comment about tasks vs available tools & materials, I think that we will need to see some part of that equation change before we see our firearm solutions change. I doubt that we are going to see much change in the ‘problems & requirements’ part for a while. Our militaries have been shooting un-to-lightly-armored foes on foot inside of 300 yards for almost a century, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Anything bigger than a man is going to get shot by either an anti-material rifle or some sort of explosive ordinance, which doesn’t really apply to me as a civilian/home defender.
Claw hammers reached a certain form factor and remained unchanged. They were the top solution for driving nails until air power came along and allowed the creation of nail guns. Now nail guns haven’t really changed except for the switch from air power to battery power, but the actual nail driving parts remain basically the same.
In that vein, we won’t see anything new for a while. Or if we do, it’ll come completely out of a direction that no one will have seen coming. I honestly believe that we won’t see anything revolutionary until some new technology is created or material science is discovered that renders the current solutions obsolete. Think the creation of smokeless powder, or metallic cartridges, something like that.
Long story short, we don’t see a lot of innovation for a reason. We are currently close enough to the pinnacle of performance that any real increases will probably be too expensive to be reasonable. Until we either figure out a new source of energy or a new metal or a new manufacturing method, we are going to keep what we have currently.
What we will see is refinement of existing technology and materials and manufacturing methods. We will see the same stuff we’ve had for forever, but made faster and cheaper and stronger and better. This is already happening and is very evident in almost every facet of the gun industry. You can buy a Canik pistol for $325 that is more reliable than the most reliable pistol on the market, at any price, in 1985. You can buy a budget bolt gun with scope included today that will outshoot all but the most expensive custom bolt guns from the ’60s and ’70s (thanks Jake in the part I comment section). I can buy a 1-10x optic today for about half of what a decent 1-4x optic cost back in 2010.
The firearms industry may appear stagnant, but that’s not a bad thing. We have effective, proven designs with decades of testing and refinement making them better than they’ve ever been, at our fingertips. We’re reaping the benefits of centuries of the weeding out of bad ideas! The current gun market is the better for consumers today than it has been at literally any time in history, and it’s only getting better.
I still do like seeing new designs coming out, though. If for no other reason than to see how close we are to that theoretical optimum solution. It keeps the rest of the industry in perspective.
Don’t rest on your laurels, and we’ll see you next time.